BEIJING — China on Thursday dismissed Canada’s protests of harsh sentences handed down by Chinese courts to Canadians whose cases are seen as linked to the arrest in Vancouver of a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei.
The Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in Canada accused Ottawa of making unwarranted, groundless accusations that “grossly interfered in China’s judicial sovereignty.”
“Such accusations are extremely unreasonable, extremely absurd and extremely arrogant, over which we express our great indignation and strongest condemnation,” their statements said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday called the sentencing of entrepreneur Michael Spavor “absolutely unacceptable and unjust.”
Trudeau cited a “lack of transparency in the legal process, and a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law.”
“For Mr. Spavor, as well as for Michael Kovrig who has also been arbitrarily detained, our top priority remains securing their immediate release. We will continue working around the clock to bring them home as soon as possible.”
Spavor and former diplomat Kovrig were detained soon after Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou was arrested Dec. 1, 2018, at the request of the U.S., where she faces charges related to possible violations of trade sanctions on Iran.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry denied Spavor and Kovrig were arbitrarily detained and said their rights were “fully protected.” Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused Canada of using “megaphone diplomacy,” to rally its allies to pressure China.
“The Chinese side urges the Canadian side to clearly grasp the current situation, earnestly respect China’s judicial sovereignty, stop applying double standards on legal issues, and stop slandering and attacking China so as to avoid bringing further damage to China-Canada relations,” the statement from the Chinese Embassy in Canada said.
Spavor was sentenced Wednesday to 11 years in prison on national security charges by a court in Dandong, near the North Korean border. The government has released few details other than to accuse Spavor of passing along sensitive information to Kovrig. Both have been held in isolation and have had little contact with Canadian diplomats.
Canada and other countries face trade boycotts and other Chinese pressure in disputes with Beijing over human rights, the coronavirus and control of the South China Sea. The United States has warned American travelers face a “heightened risk of arbitrary detention” in China for reasons other than to enforce laws.
China has tried to pressure Trudeau’s government by imposing restrictions on imports of canola seed oil and other products from Canada.
Diplomats from the United States, Japan, Britain, Australia, Germany and other European countries plus the European Union showed their support by gathering at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday. They have separately called for Spavor and Kovrig to receive fair trials or to be released.
“The practice of arbitrarily detaining individuals to exercise leverage over foreign governments is completely unacceptable,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “People should never be used as bargaining chips.”
Three Canadians convicted in separate drug cases were sentenced to death in 2019. In one, Robert Schellenberg had received a 15-year sentence initially that was abruptly increased to death in January 2019 following Meng’s arrest. His appeal was rejected Tuesday and the case was sent to China’s supreme court for a mandatory review.
Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Ltd. and daughter of the company’s founder, was arrested on U.S. charges of lying to the Hong Kong arm of the British bank HSBC about possible dealings with Iran in violation of trade sanctions.
Meng’s lawyers argue the case is politically motivated. The judge who will rule on her extradition is likely to rule later this year and the ruling can be appealed further.
China’s government believes her arrest is part of U.S. efforts to hamper its technology development. Huawei, a maker of network equipment and smartphones, is China’s first global tech brand and is at the center of U.S.-Chinese tension over technology and the security of information systems.